There is a whole host of swim equipment available to help with swimming in open water or with swim training, but some is of more use than others. In the following post I will go through the Open Water Swimming Equipment that I have found essential and what is more optional. I will also give some personal feedback that will hopefully assist you when starting out or looking to update your current equipment.
Apart from your wet suit (more later if you are not lucky enough to live in a warm climate) the one other essential piece of equipment is a quality pair of swim goggles. I do not personally know of anyone who swims without these and they must fit without leaking, will not fog up and have a good field of vision. Also, as these will be used outdoors I make sure they are polarized to cut out any glare and reflected light.
The other aspect to consider is whether you require a full face fit and this really comes down to personal preference in so much that they meet the above criteria and give good visibility. Personally I use the Zoggs Predator Flex but have also used in the past full face fit goggles from the Aqua Sphere range.
In addition, there are many other brands of quality goggles apart from Zoggs and Aqua Sphere so it may come down to personal preference and a bit of “trial and error”, but they must be fit for purpose and if possible you should look to go to the top of your budget in order to purchase these, keeping in mind that a bad pair of goggles will have a negative effect on everything else you try to achieve with your swimming.
I have put together some further information in a swimming goggles review which include goggles that I have used personally and also swimming goggles that come highly recommended from some of my swimming buddies.
Swim Hats and Ear Plugs
These items of equipment are optional but I would say a swim cap is advisable if you are lucky enough to have some hair and/or swimming in a chlorinated pool.
If swimming in colder waters then this becomes a more essential piece of equipment and personally I tend to get by with just the standard rubber or silicone hats that I pick up at triathlon races, usually quite thin but I have a couple of thicker caps I can use in colder water. Also, if the water is excessively cold I just double up with two caps and ear plugs and that works for me, but there are also a wide selection of neoprene swim hats and I would advise to get a full skull cap with an adjustable chin strap if going down this route.
For ear plugs I have generally plumped for the Speedo range as they seem to stay in the ear better, but as this is not always the case I always have a spare pair in reserve.
I have swum for many years without swim gloves but this year the water in our local lake was especially cold at the start of the year so I purchased some and Wow!!
Rather than coming out of the water with painful red hands they were well insulated and swimming in even very cold temperatures was manageable. Also, where I thought that wearing gloves might affect my stroke this was not the case, but it is important that the gloves do not balloon up with water and slip off your hands.
This led me to the Zone3 Neoprene Gloves which have an increased length that can be tucked under the wet suit and also come with a closure strap that keep the glove in place, which is exactly how it worked out.
Also, importantly for me, there is no webbing between the fingers and this seems to make the swimming feel more natural and less fatiguing. I am not using these to assist or improve my stroke, just to keep my outer extremities warm.
The same reasoning can be applied to swim boots and again any misgivings over how these would affect my swimming were superseded by the cold weather we experienced earlier this year. I did not want to go to expensive on these as I was not sure if I would get along with them, but to my surprise I found them comfortable, insulated and with no discernible negative impact on my swimming.
The brand that I went for was the Orca Hydro Swim Booties because again I did not want them filling with water and also they have a non-slip sole and a good 3mm thickness of neoprene providing quality insulation. In addition, they have a split toe design that is nice and comfortable.
But again there are many other brands out there so it is worth taking a look around.
Open Water Swimming Buoy
This is an important piece of equipment if you find yourself swimming out of your depth, away from a main group or in any waters that might have a current. I have provided a more detailed post on this at Open Water Swim Buoy – The Must Have Equipment and also other safety advice when Open Water swimming.
Last but not least we come to the most essential piece of equipment if you are unlucky enough to be swimming in colder climates, a wet suit. If competing at all in triathlon the current rules are that wet suits are mandatory if the water temperature is below 14°C (1500m swim) and generally most triathletes wear them if the water is under 22°C, and I think this is generally the case with open water swimming in general.
Apart from the added insulation when swimming outdoors they also give added buoyancy which generally
- gives the swimmer more confidence when swimming in open water.
- reduces drag and can drastically improve swim times over a set distance compared with swimming without.
- can act as a safety device as the buoyancy allows the swimmer to float on their back in a controlled manner if in difficulty.
Additionally, it needs to be a full wet suit and not a cut-off version if competing (some events do not allow “shorties”) and also non-chaffing so a surfing wet suit will not really suffice. Saying that a surfing wet suit can be used if you are swimming for the first time and want to see how you go before committing to any purchase. I know several swimmers who have gone this route.
My current choice of wet suit is a Blue Seventy Reaction with which I have no issues and which was purchased online and is not an issue as long as the supplier allows free returns if unused.
You may need to try on several suits or brands before you find the right fit (Huub suits also have a good vibe when talking to my training buddies), and although all suppliers should have sizing charts available individual brands can size up differently.
Wet suit buying can be tricky for the first time buyer so the following should give you some pointers, but please don’t be afraid to return the product if the fit is not quite right and until you feel comfortable with your choice.
Fitting Your Wet Suit
The following are some pointers to help you choose the correct fit and type of wet suit:
- Determine your current or envisaged level of ability (and budget) as to whether you should go for an entry level wet suit (that should have a thicker layer of neoprene providing more buoyancy) or one of the more advanced levels that should be thinner in material to aid flexibility and speed but possibly with less buoyancy.
- A wet suit by its nature should be very tight so try not to be unnerved by this.
- Although tight and applying pressure to your body it should not be restricting your range of movement with your arms and shoulders able to rotate freely. Also, body type will have an impact on the fit of your suit, so if you are broad shouldered or barrel-chested you should consider going up a size and perhaps down a size if you are on the thin side.
- The suit should not be loose in the crotch area and initially you must pull the suit up to be snug between your legs. Only then can you make an accurate assessment of length in the arms and legs, but the most important aspect is that the torso feels right, tight enough but with enough flexibility so you can breathe comfortably.
- Ensure that the collar is not unbearably tight and uncomfortable. Keep in mind that this will stretch some over time, however if you have a bigger neck look for one of the brands that features a lower cut collar as these tend to be a lot more generously sized.
So I Just need Goggles and a Wet Suit?
To get started in open water swimming I would say that these are the two essential items of equipment, but others will come into play depending on what water temperatures and types of water you are intending to swim in.
I hope that you have found this article helpful and if you are already swimming in or thinking of giving open water a try this gives you some good pointers at what you need, what is optional and some personal feedback on what is currently working for me.
Please feel free to leave any comments or further feedback as this is greatly appreciated.